Riders have two important events to look forward to each spring. First, as the weather warms, layers of clothing come off, exposing more skin and allowing us to remember why we’re so attracted to the gender of our preference. Pause for a moment, close your eyes, breathe in through your nose and think about the smell of spring and the sight of your favorite fantasy date in a swimsuit rather than a parka. OK, exhale. The second – and more important event for riders who live in climates with real winters – is the beginning of the riding season. The bikes get dusted off, checked over, and put back out on the road.
This year, however, in my little slice of suburbia, I’ve noticed a trend that worries me. Scooter riders are wearing no protective gear other than the state-mandated, DOT-approved helmets. While I am aware that more than a few motorcyclists also neglect to wear protective clothing (my six year old spends as much time pointing out riders with proper/improper gear as she does the colors of taxis), the number of scooter pilots I’ve noticed riding around with naked flesh hanging out in the wind – ripe for the scarring – is between 80 and 90%.
The fact that they’re exposing young, blemish-free skin and toned muscles plus big smiles from the sheer joy of riding makes my heart fill with the memories of youth. Still, perhaps it’s the parent in me (or the former motorcycle safety instructor) that makes me think about what could happen to that flawless, just-beginning-to-tan skin should the laws of physics take a turn for the worse. Or maybe it’s the fact that the only on-street crash I’ve had in my 18 years of motojournalism came just this past December – on a scooter.
Because scooters are smaller and easier to operate, folks may have lulled themselves into believing that scooters are somehow not subject to the same risks as motorcycles. This confusion is easy to understand. Scooters offer step through seating and a lower center of gravity, making them feel less tippy at a stop. All of the mechanics are hidden from view, making them more appliance-like to the public. Also, their exhaust note and power delivery are largely less intimidating.
While those points are all true, here are some other truths: Scooters, like motorcycles, depend on us to keep them upright. Without human intervention, a scooter’s natural position is lying on its side. Scooters steer by counter steering, just like motorcycles. Scooters suffer from the same lack of conspicuity (in the eyes of unaware car drivers) as motorcycles in busy visual situations. Scooter riders are just as vulnerable as motorcyclists in an accident.
Finally, asphalt doesn’t care whether the 150 lbs. of soon-to-be-flayed human flesh approaching it at 35 mph came from a motorcycle, a scooter or an open car door. The physical consequences will be the same: There will be a bounce and a slide. You wouldn’t put your hand on the business end of a running belt sander, would you? How about the rest of your body? Since we humans instinctively stick out our hands to protect ourselves in a fall, in a street crash, they’ll be the first part of your body to meet the coarsest grit you can imagine. How that turns out for you depends on what – if anything – you have between your delicate, nerve laden epidermis and the pavement.
Here at Motorcycle.com, we subscribe to the All The Gear All The Time (ATGATT) approach to motorcycling. If we’re riding on the street, we’re in proper motorcycle gear, and you should be, too. Still, we’re human and, as a consequence, suffer from the feelings of invincibility as the rest of our species. So, just in case you’ve never really thought about this, here is a list of the bare minimum gear you should wear while riding a motorcycle or scooter:
1. DOT-approved helmet
3. Sturdy jacket and pants
4. Footwear that covers the ankle
A simple rule of thumb for all riders to embrace is: Buy the best gear you can afford for the activity in which you’re participating. The requirements for riding a scooter on surface streets to school or the office are different for rides that involve highway travel. Amp up the protection even more for the track. Consider the potential weather during your ride, too. In all the times that the laws of physics have chosen to remind me that I’m not a moto-god but merely human, purpose-built riding gear has literally saved my hide. I hope you’ll have the opportunity to make the same discovery.